from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A hexachord (from Greek hexa "six", chordé " string ") is a series of six successive tones or tone classes in music theory .

Hexachords in the Middle Ages

Transfer of an illustration from Ameri Practica artis musice (1271), ed.Cesarino Ruini, Corpus scriptorum de musica, Vol. 25

In medieval music theory, hexachords (probably derived from the notes of the six- string lyre ) formed the basis for learning Gregorian chant . Different hexachords are to be thought of as overlapping excerpts from the entire tonal supply from G to e ".

The hexachord is an extension of the Greek tetrachord (efga), which in the 9th century (around Hucbald ) was shifted one tone down to the basic tones of the four church modes (defg). A whole step was added to these four tones at the top and bottom (c and a).

In every hexachord the two middle tones are a semitone step apart, all others are a whole step apart.

The hexachords were based on C, F or G, accordingly there were three types of hexachords:

  • the hexachordum naturale (natural hexachord) CD- EF- GA
  • the hexachordum molle (soft hexachord) FG- AB -CD
  • the hexachordum durum (hard hexachord) GA- HC -DE.

With a total of seven hexachords (on G, c, f, g, c ', f' and g '), the tonal range of medieval music was covered and structured by almost three octaves (G – e ").

Guido von Arezzo underscored the tones of the hexachord with the solmization syllables ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la , which are taken from the John's hymn Ut queant laxis . The guidonic hand was perhaps already used as an aid to him, but certainly to later teachers of the Middle Ages .

b durum and b molle

Originally there was only level B between the grades A and C. The system of hexachords resulted in two varieties of the B:

The naming of the major and minor pitches is ultimately based on these names :

  • the major third of the major triad on G (GHD) is formed with a b durum (B),
  • the minor third of the minor triad on G (GBD) is formed with a b minor (B).

When setting the tone names in writing , the (lower case) B was drawn differently as required:

  • if it forms the semitone interval with the C, i.e. should be higher ( b durum ), it was angularly shaped ( b quadratum )
  • if it forms the semitone interval with the A, i.e. should be lower ( b molle ), it was shaped round ( b rotundum ).

After numerous variations on this calligraphy developed from the b quadratum and b rotundum finally today's pros and accidentals .


  • Christian Berger : Hexachord (I.–V.) . In: L. Finscher (Ed.): Music in past and present . 2nd Edition. Kassel 1996, part volume 4, col. 279–286
  • Christian Berger: La quarte et la structure hexacordale. In: L'enseignement de la musique au Moyen Age et à la Renaissance. Colloque Royaumont 1985, Royaumont 1987, pp. 17-28, uni-freiburg.de
  • Christian Berger: Cithara, cribrum and caprea. Paths to the Hexachord. In: M. Kintzinger, S. Lorenz, M. Walter (Hrsg.): School and students in the Middle Ages. Contributions to the European history of education from the 9th to 15th centuries. Supplements to the Archive for Cultural History 42. Cologne 1996, pp. 89–109, uni-freiburg.de
  • Christian Berger: Hexachord and Modus: Three Rondeaux by Gilles Binchois. In: Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis 16 (1992), pp. 71–87, uni-freiburg.de
  • Jacques Chailley : "Ut queant laxis" et les origines de la gamme. In: Acta Musicologica 56 (1984), pp. 48-69
  • Klaus-Jürgen Sachs: Musical elementary teaching in the Middle Ages. In: Frieder Zaminer (ed.): Reception of the ancient subject in the Middle Ages. History of music theory. Darmstadt 1990, pp. 105-162

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Whittall, 2008, p. 273.
  2. Template from the Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum at the Center for the History of Music Theory and Literature, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington
  3. August Wilhelm Ambros : History of Music , Volume 2 (1864), First Book: The First Times of the New Christian World and Art , page 175